Winter is coming.
Keeping our dogs warm in the cold weather presents a new set of challenges, especially if you live in areas with extreme cold winters. Even though dogs are covered in fur, most are just not meant to be out in the freezing cold for long periods of time. When a dog gets wet, its fur coat loses much of its insulating ability. Dogs with short fur, like Beagles and Border Terriers, have even less protection.
Our Felcana vet team have put together their top 17 winter dog care tips just for you. These include protecting those dog paws, keeping your dog warm indoors and outdoors, and what signs and symptoms of a cold dog to look out for.
1. Protecting dog paws in winter
Snow and ice can be uncomfortable, but the real danger is the salt that gets spread along the roads and sidewalks to melt the ice. The salt and ice combo creates a reaction that burns the dog’s paws.
Dog shoes for winter are a good solution – you can either get rubber booties or dog boots that use Velcro.
Make sure the dog shoes don’t fit too tight, otherwise you risk cutting off the blood circulation to the paws which can eventually lead to frostbite. Try slipping baby socks onto your dog's paws so they get used to the feeling of having something on their feet.
2. Cracked pads vs. foot cracks
Dry and cold weather can do a number of things to a dog’s skin, just like it can make ours dry, cracked and sore too. Just as we tend to get foot cracks in the winter, your dog can also suffer from cracked pads. You can help prevent dry flaky skin by adding a skin and coat supplement to their food, such as coconut and fish oils. Coconut oil can even be applied topically (straight to the skin) if the dog’s paws, ears, or tail are dry or cracking.
3. Make a cosy bed for your dog
Wet bedding can be fatal – choosing the right bedding helps your dog stays warm. Raised beds keep the dog off the cold floor and dog blankets create a comfy environment for him. If you live in extremely cold areas, look into getting a heated dog bed. It may even help keep the stiffness out of those aging joints in elderly dogs.
4. Learn about hypothermia in dogs
One of the most life threatening conditions for dogs in the cold weather is hypothermia. When a dog spends too much time in the cold, his body temperature (normally between 38C/101F to 39C/102F) can drop fatally. This could also happen to a dog getting wet in cold temperatures. To begin with, your dog will start shivering and their ears and feet may grow cold. As hypothermia progresses, they may start showing signs of depression, lethargy, and weakness. Their muscles will stiffen, heart and breathing rates will slow down, and they will stop responding to stimuli as hypothermia worsens. Be sure to call your vet if you notice any of the following dog hypothermia symptoms:
- Violent shivering, followed by listlessness
- Weak pulse
- Muscle stiffness
- Problems breathing
- Lack of appetite
- Rectal temperature below 98°F
- Cardiac arrest
5. Remember these early warning signs for frostbite
Frostbite occurs when a part of your dog’s body freezes. It is a serious problem for dogs in cold weather. The most commonly affected areas are your dog’s ears, paws, the tip of their tail, foot pads, and even scrotum. Watch out for:
- Pale, gray, or blue skin at first
- Red, puffy skin later
- Pain in ears, tail, or paws when touched
- Skin that stays cold
- Shriveled skin
6. Dog coats are useful but you still need to keep an eye out
Dog coats are useful in the cold weather, especially for short hair dogs. A good dog coat should reach from the neck to the base of the tail and protect his belly.
However, just because you have dressed your dog up in warm dog jackets doesn’t mean you can leave him outside to wander without supervision. A wet dog coat can lead to hypothermia; or the dog may try to get out of his dog sweater and get himself caught in a way that makes suffocation a risk.
7. Winter’s darker days and longer nights
The cold is not the only thing to worry about when taking your dog out for walks in the winter. In the darker days and longer nights, your dog can be hard to see. Make sure you dress your dog up in reflective materials such as reflective collars.
Some vets also suggest collars, tags, and leashes that are embedded with LED lights. (The very same reason Felcana’s vet team has designed and built the Flashback™ light into the Helix).
8. Food… adjust your dog’s daily calories intake
Cold weather for dogs may bring on lazy behaviour as their body naturally tells them to conserve energy by sleeping more. They also exercise much less when they go outside, so you may need to adjust the amount of dog food in case of overweight.
However, if you have an outdoor dog, be sure to provide plenty of dog food as he will need more calories in the winter to stay warm. Always pay attention to your dog’s activity level and adjust his calories accordingly.
9. Water, water, water – not icicles!
Dogs can dehydrate just as quickly in winter as they do in summer.
It is important to make sure your dog has access to fresh, unfrozen water every day. Although some dogs may eat snow, it is not an adequate substitute for fresh water whatsoever.
If you tend to leave the bowl outdoors, check it often and break the ice that forms on top. Another one of your options is to get an inexpensive warmer for the water bowl.
10. Potty in the snow…how fun!
How can you encourage your dog to go outside for a quick potty run in the deep snow? Shovel it!
You can keep a small area in the yard clear of snow (or keep it an inch or two high) and encourage your dog to use that spot. To go the extra mile, you can even shovel a path to this patch for your dog in snow. When it’s really cold outside, most vets suggest the owners should wait by the door while the dog uses its outdoor potty and let him back in as soon as the business has been taken care of.
11. Too cold to go out
Alternatively, if the weather is too miserable to let your dog out, there are indoor options you can choose from for his toilet needs:
- A pee pad – it comes in different sizes and is an especially effective option for smaller, older, or sick dogs
- A pee patch – a small patch of fake grass on top of a broad hollow tray; there are several inexpensive options available online
- A litter box – some smaller dogs or mature dogs can be trained, though vets urge that the owners have to be patient during the process
12. Dog in the cold
Don’t leave dogs outdoors by themselves when the temperature drops – owners should always stay close. Some vets say a good rule of thumb is for owners to go out with the dog and when you’re ready to come in, he probably is too.
13. Heating up your dogcicle
Naturally, the dog will seek heat during the cold winter weather. However, he can end up snuggling too close to the heating sources and harm himself. Avoid space heaters and install baseboard radiator covers to prevent your dog getting burnt. Some of us also have a fireplace at home – this poses another major threat, so always keep an eye out for your dog and don't leave them unattended with a fire.
14. Grooming all year round
Grooming isn’t just for the spring and fall when your dog is shedding. Your dog needs a clean, well-groomed coat to keep him properly insulated. This is especially important for outdoor dogs. Be sure to dry your dog thoroughly after bathing before allowing him outside.
15. Antifreeze is sweet and deadly
Antifreeze, which can leak from a car’s radiator, is thick and very sweet – often making it irresistible to some dogs.
However, antifreeze is deadly and it doesn’t take much to kill one. It can be fatal if it is not treated aggressively soon after ingesting it. If you suspect your dog has come into contact with antifreeze, get them to a vet immediately – do not wait to see if they get sick. Signs of antifreeze poisoning can show 30 minutes after ingesting it; common signs include:
- Appearing drunk
- Uncoordinated, wobbly movement
- Seizures (fits)
- Difficulty breathing
- Fainting / coma
16. Special treatment for the young and the old
Dog shoes, dog jackets, flashy dog collars, and most of what we’ve talked about above are only meant to be used with healthy adult dogs in winter.
Puppies, older dogs, and sick dogs should not be outside when the temperatures really plummet - no matter how many protective layers they are dressed in.
They simply don’t have the fat, metabolism, or the full fur coat to keep them warm when temperatures drop.
17. Cold weather does make arthritis worse
Cold weather often worsens existing medical conditions in dogs, particularly arthritis, just like it does with humans. As vets say, it’s very important to maintain an exercise regimen for your dog with arthritis. Be wary of slippery surfaces at home and make sure your dog has a warm, soft bedding area. If you don’t already give your elderly dog a natural joint supplement to lubricate his joints and ease the discomfort from the arthritis, some vets advice adding one in the winter.
Always take precautions anytime the temperatures drop below freezing. And remember - if it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your dog!